Post-Meet Training: So Much Room for Activities!
By Matt Foreman
This article was provided by Peformance Menu and originally published on PerformanceMenu.com
I’m writing this article on my laptop, sitting on a plane flying to the 2016 American Open in Orlando, Florida. It’s a long flight from Phoenix, and I decided to spend the time putting together some information you should be able to use.
The American Open is the second most prestigious weightlifting event in the United States, after the National Championship. Qualifying for it is tough, and the competition you face if you make it is fierce. Needless to say, people train hard for this thing. It’s the highlight of the competitive year for many American lifters. For the incredibly small handful of studs who have much bigger meets on their horizon than the American Open (World Championships, Olympic Games), this meet isn’t the top of the mountain. But for everybody else who’s underneath that level, this is the Super Bowl.
Not too long ago, I was asking my wife what I should write my next article about, and she suggested the topic I’m going to deliver to you now. I’ve written dozens of articles about how to train and prepare for big competitions like this, but I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about how you should train AFTER a major meet.
It matters, you know? Unless you’re training for a competition that’s going to be your last one and you’re 100 percent certain that you’re retiring after it’s over, you need to know the best ways to get back into the swing of training after the big day has come and gone. After you finish a meet, you’re very quickly going to start thinking about the next one. So…how do you make the transition back to productive training after the big peak you experience at a competition?
I’ve heard lots of different strategies for this, along with some crazy stories about the post-meet habits of the all-time greats. I know a lifter who won an Olympic gold medal and then basically vanished from the face of the earth while he spent a month in Thailand on a balls-to-the-wall partying rampage. I’ve also heard about athletes from China who win the Olympics, enjoy a one-week vacation from training camp so they can go home and see their families, and then get shipped back into the gym to resume backbreaking training 14 days after their Olympic win. These are what we call “polar opposite approaches.”
All of you fall somewhere between those two extremes. Your body goes through hell while you’re preparing to peak for a major competition. You bust your ass for weeks, and then you get on the platform and squeeze every kilo you can get out of your body, leaving you feeling like a Lego set that’s been thrown against a brick wall when it’s over…wrecked. Let’s take a look at some of the important things to consider after the smoke has cleared and it’s time to get rolling again.
Consideration #1: Your physical status after the meet.
In the simplest possible way, what kind of shape is your body in after you’re done competing? There are a few distinct possibilities:
Sore and exhausted but feeling okay. This is the best possible scenario. You’re sore all over and tired as a black mule in the Mexican desert, but nothing is wrong. You didn’t come away with any injuries, and you basically just need a little rest and recovery time to let your muscles and joints repair themselves after the hard day.
Sore and fatigued, with some tweaks and creaks. This is the next step down on the totem pole. You didn’t blow anything up at the meet, but you didn’t get away scot-free either. You come away with some kind of minor strain, pulled muscle, contusion, or whatever. You’re sore and fatigued obviously, but you’ve also got a little damage that you’ll need to heal up from.
Injured. It sucks to be in this position, but it happens sometimes. Weightlifting is a sport of heavy weights and hard impact on your joints. When you push the upper limits of what your body can handle, there’s always the risk of something going wrong. Nobody wants to get injured at a meet, but it can happen.
If you’re just sore and fatigued, you can probably rest up for a few days and then be ready to get back into the gym for some light work. If you’re sore and fatigued with some tweaks and creaks, you might need to spend a week actively rehabilitating the damage (stretching, icing, massage therapy, etc.) before you’re ready for the barbell again. If you’re injured, you’ll need to figure out how bad it is and then determine if you need to get checked out by a doctor. Training during this time would need to be “working around the injury,” such as doing upper body work and core exercises if the injury was to your knee, for example. There’s no way for me to give you a detailed plan for how to handle this because injuries are all different. The bottom line is this: if you need some rest, take it. Put all your effort into getting healthy again.
Pulls and Squats
During my peak years with the Calpian Weightlifting Club, our athletes would almost always do one to two weeks of pulls and squats after a competition. This is exactly what it sounds like. Four training days per week that would usually look like this:
And that’s it. No overhead lifting during this time, and the weights on the pulls and squats were nothing insane. The idea here was for the lifter to recover both physically and psychologically after a major meet. Because there were no overhead competition lifts during this phase, our joints got a break from the impact. Our minds also got a break from the pressure of hitting big snatches and C&Js all the time. We stayed strong because of all the strength work, so we didn’t go backward. It was a kind of working vacation, so to speak. Looking back, I think this approach was one of the major strengths of our program, and it allowed us to train effectively after big meets while still getting the kind of recovery we needed.
That GPP thing
If the pulls and squats phase I just described is one example of how to train after a big meet, doing a GPP phase is another option. GPP stands for “General Physical Preparation.” In case you’ve never read about this before, a GPP phase would be a short period of training where the athlete is doing a diverse range of activities intended to improve and prepare the overall physical status prior to focused sport-specific training. For an Olympic lifter, this might mean spending a few weeks doing things like sled pushes, sprints, various strength movements that aren’t part of the normal training (kettlebells, plyometrics, etc.), and other “basic athletic” activities. In China, GPP phases will sometimes involve the athlete actually playing other sports (just as training activities, not competitively). Actual barbell lifting during this phase will be minimal, with just enough work to avoid a complete loss of technique and strength.
The idea here is to let the athlete recover from hard training and a competition peak, while also improving overall athletic performance by taxing physical systems that don’t normally get touched during hard competition prep, when SN, C&J, pulls, and squats are the overwhelming focus.
I’ll be honest with you; I’ve read more about GPP phases than I’ve actually seen them. Our club never did them. I’ve also never had any of my athletes do them. The way I’ve always looked at it, there’s no time to waste in the development of an Olympic lifter. I’m definitely not classifying GPP phase training as a waste of time. Don’t misunderstand me on that. The point I’m making is that when you work with athletes who are training 100 percent full-time and are already highly developed, like the professional lifters in China and Russia, there are more options for the kinds of training tools (and phases) you can implement. But when you’re talking about athletes who are well below that level of performance and also working with limited training time because they have jobs and, possibly, started the sport when they were 28…you need to stockpile as many snatches, clean and jerks, and OL-focused strength work as you can while you’ve got the chance. Just my personal opinion. Take it or leave it.
Just jumping right back in
And then there are the lifters who simply go straight back to regular training after a meet is over. They take maybe a few days off, and then they start back into a routine that probably looks very similar to what they were doing before the meet, with some minor changes and reduced weights for a while.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as long as the lifters respond well to it. I’ve known some lifters who could peak for a major meet with huge lifts and then start hitting very close to those same weights within a week or two of the meet. This is much more common in younger athletes because their recuperation time after a big effort is instantaneous. You’re probably not going to enjoy the same kind of experience when you’re older. Those aging joints and muscles take longer to get back to normal after a big spike.
Not all athletes are created the same mentally as well. Some lifters don’t need a significant psychological break from big lifts after a meet. If an athlete can recover physically and mentally to a near-competition status within a short amount of time after peaking for a contest, that’s terrific. There’s nothing wrong with just getting back to the regular grind as soon as possible after a big day. But if you’re going to use that method, I would caution the coach to watch and see what the athlete looks like four, five, and six weeks after the meet. Training mistakes sometimes show up a month after the mistake has been made. You don’t want to find out halfway through your next competition cycle that you started training hard too quickly after the last one.
In a nutshell
Regardless of exactly what it looks like, weightlifters usually need some rest time after a competition. Lots of different things can happen to an athlete during a weightlifting meet, so there are lots of different things that might need to be done in training after it’s all over. If you’re fairly new to the game, it might not be a bad idea to experiment with a few different approaches after your meets.
The nice part about post-meet training is that it’s almost impossible to make a mistake that will cost you anything major. You just finished up with a meet, and there’s probably not another one for quite a while. This means you’ve got a little room to play around without the pressure of an upcoming competition anywhere on the horizon. You trained hard for a long time, laid it all on the line on meet day, and survived. You’ve earned a little time without stress before it comes time to get back into the heavy grind. Enjoy it. As Eugene O’Neill said, “Take advantage of the sunshine before the fog comes back.” Just don’t let the vacation last too long. Remember, you’re a weightlifter.
Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams. He is the author of Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete.
The views expressed in this article may not be that of USA Weightlifting. Publication of all articles is to share different opinions and viewpoints. For instruction on the lifts from USA Weightlifting visit www.usaweightlifting.org.
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